Friday, November 25, 2016


It was an exhilarating experience.  Not often does a man find himself a witness to scientific history.

I was in no way the first person to shine the light on this phenomenon.  Mark Twain, Steve Allen, Carol Burnett, Woody Allen in Crimes and Misdemeanors – albeit satirically, lampooning not the idea itself but the insufferable “know-it-all” espousing it – and if these respected sages agree on it, it is at least worth listening to.  Steve Allen alone, maybe not, but throw in Mark Twain and Carol Burnett… I mean, now we’re talking.

The oft-mentioned, universally accepted observation:

“Comedy is tragedy plus time.”

To the degree that anything is true, or true substantially more than it is false which places it near if not in the top tier of “Indisputable Trueness”, comedy really is “tragedy plus time.”

“Have you ever seen a ghost?”

“Yeah.  Rachel Maddow on Election Night.”

Possibly too soon.  Joke-exposing is a tricky proposition, in which timing is everything.  (I believe Steve Allen also said that.  But it could have been Marty Allen.  Hello, dere!”)  You jump the gun on a joke and it’s tasteless.  You wait too long and it’s dated.  Like Goldilocks’ porridge, it has to be “just right.”

Not long ago – and my hands are still shaking writing about it – I took this comedy truism a gigantic step further.  It was not deliberate, but how many great scientific advances are?  (Maybe a lot of them, I don’t know.  But I know there are also numerous scientific advances where they forget to refrigerate the stuff in the Petri dish and are subsequently awarded the Nobel Prize.  Call it hubris – I would if anyone else said it – but this personal discovery merits inclusion in the vaunted pantheon of “Great Accidental Illuminations.” 

It is only a first step, I grant you, but I sincerely believe that… all right, that’s enough.  Here it is.

Last night, I woke up about three-thirty in the morning.  If I had known I was on the verge of scientific advancement I would have noted the time precisely but I didn’t.  I just thought I needed to go to the bathroom.  It was then I made two surprising discoveries.

One, I did not need to go to the bathroom.  And two, when I woke up, I was chuckling. 

And I knew exactly the reason why.

I was chuckling because something was funny.  But also, I was delighted that, due to my invaluable awareness of the situation, the world as we knew it would now never be the same. 

For my specific example at least, I had discovered the duration of time involved for tragedy, like a caterpillar transforming into a butterfly, to flutter across the “Dividing Line”, morphing identifiably…

… into comedy.

I truly knew how long that “tragedy-to-comedy” metamorphosis took.  In the case of the following anecdote, it took…

Three days, eleven hours and twenty-eight minutes. 

It was an astonishing revelation.  With my discovery as a guide-posting “Measuring Stick”, it is now possible, based on its position on the tragicometrical hierarchy – more tragic than my personal situation or less tragic than my personal situation – to determine how long it would take for that tragedy to transmogrify into comedy.

No more embarrassing faux pas.  It’s just a simple matter of arithmetic.

Here now are the facts of my personal situation.

It was during a pre-visit to a gastroenterologist, prior to the always-popular upcoming colonoscopy.  The much anticipated “Finger Test” suggests the need for further investigation, involving additional, follow-up “blood work.”  

The doctor escorts me to a picture window in his office, pointing in the direction of a nearby clinic specializing in blood work. 

Congenitally anxious about understanding directions, and also concerned that the time on my street-side parking meter will expire if there is an extended wait at the blood-taking clinic across the street, I say to the doctor,

“You don’t do ‘blood’ here?”

Hearing that they do, I opt to save the time and inconvenience, and have my blood work completed “in-house.”

The first blood taker, after puncturing my right arm, is unable to draw a sufficient amount of blood to complete the requested lab tests.  She then punctures my left arm, generating similar unsatisfactory results.  At that point, she abruptly retires from the field, ceding her duties off to a confident, blood-taking co-worker. 

Failing to draw sufficient blood himself, accessing the same portals, the replacement phlebotomist jabs the needle into the top of my hand, where the veins are so prominent, blind blood-takers could find them.  It just hurts more going in.
For me, this incompetence-driven discomfort qualifies indisputably as a tragedy.  Which is how I present it when I get home, garnering the pity and consolation I was looking for.  Getting jabbed multiple times should at least earn you a hug.  And the last remaining butterscotch dessert, which it did.

Three days, eleven hours and twenty-eight minutes after the fact, I wake up chuckling.  And I immediately know why.  In that (less than precise but close to) measurable period of time…

Tragedy had been immutably transmogrified into comedy.

Fearful of getting lost or getting a parking ticket or both, I had eschewed the blood-drawing professionals across the street, in favor of two Bozos who had used my precious body as the proverbial pincushion.

I belatedly realized that I had done this to myself.  A self-inflicted blessure, if you will.  And not just in French.   

An agonizing experience, at first.  Suddenly, after the appropriate – and, now thanks to me calibratable – interval…

…. it was funny.

Hypothesis:  If you can measure the duration of that inevitable – according to Mark Twain, Steve Allen and Carol Burnett – transition once, as I did, you will, in time, and with increasing precision, be able, in a similar fashion, to calibrate the duration of all of them.

Making it possible, then and for all time, to know the exact moment when tragedy becomes comedy. 

Heroes of Science:

Madame Curie, Louis Pasteur…

And E. Raymond Pomerantz.

Send the prize to the house. 

I am not flying to Stockholm in the winter.


Wendy M. Grossman said...

I would really like to see you have this conversation with Tig Notaro.


Nico said...

Comedy plus too much time turns into Steve Allen's later years of ranting and hating everything new.